Kopi Luwak: The Expensive Coffee Cruelly Made of Civet Poop

By: Carrie Tatro  | 
civet coffee
Civet poop coffee beans for sale at an outdoor Kopi Luwak stall in Bali, Indonesia, in July 2022. BUI LE MANH HUNG/Shutterstock

Nothing says, "I'm rich, I'm extravagant and I like to put a little something strange in my mouth first thing in the morning," better than a steaming hot mug of "civet poop" coffee. Just know in advance of your next indulgent caffeine experience that a cup of $90- to $650-per-pound Kopi Luwak coffee is a slickly marketed, finely hyped fusion of what "cat" scat, combined with cruelty to small tropical mammals, tastes like.

Though often called a "civet cat," the shy Asian palm civet is a nocturnal, arboreal, mostly solitary forager and cat-like hunter that is actually more similar to a mongoose, weasel or ferret than a feline. Bottom line: By any name, its poop is worth a fortune in the niche world market of the "coffee-crazed" elite.


Considered among the top most expensive cups of joe in the world, the authentic, rare and wild-harvested examples of Kopi (Indonesian for "coffee") Luwak ("palm civet") coffee come from civets in Bali or other neighboring islands.

coffee beans in civet poop
Wild civet poop, filled with coffee beans, collected from the Indonesian forest.


What Is Kopi Luwak?

Marketing "legend" has it that wild civets slip into coffee plantations at night and discernibly prowl for and consume only the finest, sweetest, ripest coffee cherries. The cherries then pass through their digestive tracts where their little civet guts do "magical" mellow-making, enzymatic things to the protein structure of the beans. Approximately one day later, the civets defecate the highly prized residuum that will ultimately become what's hyped as a more refined and distinct cup of coffee.

What really makes the rare 100 percent pure and truly humane Kopi Luwak coffee so expensive though, is this fun fact: Plantation workers, aka human beings, must labor in Indonesia's tropical heat to locate and collect the civet dung by hand. Next, they face the tedious, not-so-pleasant and time-consuming task of hand-sorting their way through the excrement to retrieve the ripe, poop-covered cherries. After that, workers wash, dry and roast the beans to create what the marketplace touts as a scarce, top tier, gourmet coffee. In fact, one study contends that only 500 pounds (227 kilograms) in total of authentic wild-sourced Kopi Lowak is manufactured per year.


While authentic, low-yielding, wild-sourced Kopi Luwak fetches the highest price, the truth is that some sources report that up to 70 percent of Kopi Luwak sold is not the real deal. Turns out most varieties on today's market are blends that can legally contain as little as 1 percent actual civet coffee to legally use the name "Kopi Luwak." Furthermore, no certification program exists to guarantee that Kopi Luwak coffee that's labeled "wild" is actually authentic.

Farm-raised Kopi Luwak

Enter the slippery slope of supply and demand: farm-raised Kopi Luwak. It's a miserable, insanity-inducing existence for these solitary little beasts, who go from rocking in the free world one day to being trapped, crammed into battery cages, held captive and fed nothing but coffee bean cherries day after day. Not only is the civet mortality rate high on farm-raised plantations, but the mono-diet also produces a poor-quality product.

civet in captivity in battery cage 
Shy, nocturnal civets are kept in battery cages and fed nothing but coffee bean cherries in the production of Kopi Luwak.
Stefan Magdalinski/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


Does Poop Coffee Even Taste Good?

A lot of people in the coffee industry and beyond say that Kopi Luwak is far from superior and tastes like, well, crap. "On a farm in East Java, I had the opportunity to evaluate a batch of Luwak coffee from ferrets raised in captivity and fed the same coffee. After trying several samples, it is clear that Luwak coffee is sold for its story, not superior quality," Rocky Rhodes of International Coffee Consulting told Helena Coffee Processing & Export in Vietnam.

And Tony Wild, the former director of Taylors and Harrogate, the British coffee company that introduced Kopi Luwak to the West, said in an interview with The Guardian, "When I introduced Kopi Luwak to the U.K., it was an odd novelty. Now, it's overvalued, industrialized, ruthless and inauthentic."


The nitty-gritty bottom line? Kopi Luwak coffee is made from matter that is excreted from an animal's alimentary canal. It may, or probably does not, taste great, it's expensive and it's torture for the little captives who produce it. So, if any of that gives you pause, but you still want to try Kopi Luwak coffee, please book a flight to Indonesia and find a local, reliable source of authentic, wild civet poop.